Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIII.: MAN'S LAST END CANNOT BE ATTAINED IN THIS PRESENT LIFE. - The Triumph of the Cross
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CHAPTER XIII.: MAN’S LAST END CANNOT BE ATTAINED IN THIS PRESENT LIFE. - Girolamo Savonarola, The Triumph of the Cross 
The Triumph of the Cross, trans. from the Italian, edited, with an Introduction by the Very Rev. Father John Procter, S.T.L. With a frontispiece portrait of the author (London: Sands & Co., 1901).
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MAN’S LAST END CANNOT BE ATTAINED IN THIS PRESENT LIFE.
If we give serious consideration to what has been said, we shall see how difficult, nay impossible, it would be for man to attain to his last end during the course of the present life. For, although it be true that beatitude is the last perfection of man, it is not every degree of contemplation of Divine things which can render a man happy. Although the contemplation of God forms the happiness of man, this contemplation must be perfect, with the fullest perfection of which human nature is capable. Whereas, during this mortal life, very few, scarce any one indeed, can attain to this perfection. Perfect contemplation demands a fulness of knowledge to which the greater part of mankind can never arrive. Some men are hindered therefrom by physical ineptitude, or by some imperfection in those interior senses which are the instruments used by the soul in the pursuit of knowledge. Others again, are so obtuse, that they can scarcely understand the clearest matters; whilst others are unable to devote themselves to contemplation, by reason of the duties imposed on them, through family cares, and the necessities of social life. And even those who are able to free themselves from these trammels, must serve a long apprenticeship before they can attain to the perfection of knowledge and contemplation. This for two reasons. Firstly, remembering that we attain to knowledge of immaterial things by means of sensible things, it is only reasonable to expect that an extensive knowledge of material things should be required before we can hope to attain to a perfect knowledge of such as are in the highest degree spiritual. Secondly, in order to attain to perfect contemplation, purity of heart, quiescence of the passions, and the possession of moral virtues, are essential; and these things are rarely met with except among the aged, and even among them are not possessed save by such as have laboured diligently for their acquisition. The greater number of those living in the world, being still young, and, but few of them having opportunity to devote themselves to the contemplation of the Truth, it follows that but a small number will be able to attain to perfect happiness in this life.
Neither need we be astonished at the fact, that it is exceptional to find souls capable of contemplation, when daily experience convinces us of the limitations of human understanding, and of the ease with which men are deceived in purely natural matters. How much more easily may we be deceived in things which are Divine? All our knowledge of natural things springs from the senses, and what more fallible than the eye, which tells us that the sun is a tiny sphere, whereas it is much larger than our entire earth? Again, the imagination can so obscure the intellect, as to render it difficult for us to believe that any beings exist, save such as are corporeal.
Our understanding, again, often deceives us, persuading us to give credence to false and sophistical reasoning, as is proved by the many varying opinions even amongst clever men. The divers passions and affections of our soul, and our evil habits, are a further obstacle to our apprehension of the truth. If, then, our intellect be so shackled in its investigation of purely natural things, how much greater difficulty shall we not have in learning such as are Divine? The more we consider the hindrances which beset us in the acquisition of knowledge, the more clear it becomes that, if true happiness is only to be found in this life, very few amongst us can attain to it. Children, youths, women, and all such as are not capable of learning, and are occupied in human affairs, must be excluded from the chance of acquiring knowledge, and of attaining, through knowledge, to beatitude. Such an idea as this is, of course, absurd, since beatitude is the end of human life, and that for which all mankind is created.
But there is another reason which makes it impossible for man to be wholly happy in this life. This reason is, that happiness being the ultimate good of man, cannot be marred by any admixture of evil, and, being an all-sufficing good, it brings with it all other good; so that when perfect happiness is attained, nothing further remains for man to desire. But where shall we find, in this life, a man who wishes for nothing, and who, having a nature subject, as is our nature, to so many infirmities, enjoys, nevertheless, perfect immunity from every evil? Daily experience shows us, that even those who, like Priam, have been reputed happy, were beset by many misfortunes.
But let us assume that some one has, so far as it be possible in this mortal life, attained to the perfect contemplation of Divine things, and enjoys every other good, still even he cannot be called truly happy. For, since happiness means perfect tranquillity of the human heart, and since all men have a natural, an unceasing desire to know, this desire must be an obstacle to perfect repose, as long as knowledge be not complete. The number of things in the world which men do not know, and yet desire to know, is almost infinite. Philosophers, after lifelong study, and much learning, have died leaving much unknown. For the things of which we have knowledge form but a small portion of that which there is to know, and our actual knowledge is most imperfect. If, then, our intellect be so limited regarding natural things, how can we expect to understand such as are supernatural and Divine? The human heart cannot be satisfied with slight knowledge, but always desires more perfect knowledge. Thus it is, that the more it knows God, the more perfectly it desires to know Him; for natural impetus is swifter, as it nears the end, than at the beginning. Hence, it follows that, as we cannot, in the present life, attain to any perfect knowledge of God, neither can we enjoy perfect happiness.
But, supposing, for argument’s sake, that a man should attain, in this world, to full knowledge of all things natural and Divine, he would still fail to be perfectly happy; because perfect knowledge cannot be acquired save in old age, when death draws nigh. Even if this knowledge could be gained in youth, it would still be no safeguard against death. The desire for immortality is innate in all men; hence, all men desire to continue their lives, either in their children, or by some excellent work; for a wise man who loves a perfect life cannot fail to hate what destroys it. Therefore, were there no other life than this, the wisest man, yea, he whom we assume to be truly happy, could not fail to be saddened at the thought of death. A philosopher would not indeed banish the thought of death, for that would be the act of an unreasonable man; but neither can he be called happy, who has laboured all his life to acquire some good which he is unable to retain, and who knows not whether his end is to be in bliss, or in misery.
We see then, by the foregoing arguments, that, if there be no life beyond the grave, the lot of man is beyond measure wretched. For all other things are led by nature, and easily attain their end; but man is surrounded by difficulties, and either fails to find his end, or, if after much toil, he succeeds in finding it, he will be unable to retain it. That such should be the fate of the noblest of God’s creatures on earth must appear, even to the most unlearned mind, an absurdity.